A dozen years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America had the right to exclude gays. And while the organization won that case, the ruling and the perpetuation of its discriminatory policy damaged its “brand” in the eyes of many.
Now comes the encouraging news that the organization may drop the gay exclusion.
A spokesman says the national board is considering a change that would allow sponsoring organizations like churches, companies and schools to decide for themselves whether their scout units would admit gays.
Under this approach, the national organization “would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units,” said spokesman Deron Smith. The change could be announced this week.
That would not end discrimination for all scout units, but it would mark an important step in the right direction. More, it would create momentum for gradual change throughout the organization.
It seems apparent the national board was reluctant to issue an organization-wide edict with the potential to create deep fissures in scouting as a whole. Mormon, Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist churches sponsor many scout units, and those denominations have been strong supporters of the gay exclusion. Many may well continue that policy.
Yet allowing sponsoring groups to decide on their own would inevitably set things in motion. Many troops would drop the ban, as indeed some have already. Once gays are accepted at the troop level, summer camps would be expected to accommodate all as well. As time passed, the number of troops maintaining the exclusion would shrink.
“I don’t think it matters if you’re gay or straight,” Eagle Scout Eric Jones told The Kansas City Star. He’s right, yet after telling his camp director he was gay, Jones was removed from a leadership position at a scout camp near St. Joseph.
These and similar instances have been unfair to affected scouts and leaders and have damaged scouting’s standing. The organization’s national board should follow up on last week’s announcement and rescind blanket application of the anti-gay policy.